At the risk of becoming repetitive, I am learning more and more about the changing world of gaming every day.
Yesterday I learned that despite the fact that we have enabled certain people to live a lifestyle that most of us could only dream of, we can still be royally kicked in the teeth!
In the olden days, I used to pop into town, part with some hard-earned cash and return with a shiny disc. That disc had the entire contents of a game on it. I’d play through it (actually mostly they would be played up to a point where I got stuck) and then either trade it in or put it on the shelf. In those days, it was the preserve of the PC “nerds” to have
expansion packs. Even then, the same process of town-spend cash-disc in drive, was necessary.
Seemingly that process is on the verge of disappearing. Digital downloads areever more prevalent for low to mid end titles and one would assume that it won’t be long before the AAA games follow suit. In the interim though, we have this new concept of DLC. Remember, this is all new to me and I had absolutely no idea that this was as common, until I had actually bought my Xbox. Almost every game that you buy now, be it digital download or one of those “old-fashioned” shiny discs, has an option to buy extra chunks of it soon after it’s been installed.
Now I have mixed views on this. My primary instinct is to question why we are getting sold an incomplete product in the first place? Surely when a company advertises a game for sale, they shouldn’t be able to wait until you have parted with your wonga, to inform you that, what you have actually paid for is only part of it and you need to give them more money to fully enjoy it. If I bought a tv then found out, when I got it home, that it only worked in standard def I’d be miffed. If I then found a leaflet in the box telling me that I needed to fork out another 50 quid to get the full benefits of HD, I could probably get the manufacturer and the retailer prosecuted! Somehow though, it’s ok for game companies to do exactly that. What they sell will work but just not quite to its full potential! It seems that we, as gamers, are happy to accept that and are fully prepared to reach for the credit card at some point in the future.
On the other hand, I have just paid for Battlefield Premium and have attempted to justify the extra cost to those less keen. I really think that it has added a lot to, and also prolonged the life of, what is already a very complex and expansive game. With that very statement though, I have very openly thrown myself at the feet of the mighty EA and played right into their hands! I have joined the band of gamers who are willing to be exploited in such a way. Fully accepting, like many others, that a game is no longer going to cost me what is printed on the big sticker when I buy it and in some cases I should be budgeting for around the same amount again to enable me to get the full benefit of it!
I have recently heard many other gaming commentators criticising EA for releasing Premium at such a high cost and many stand with my views that a game should come complete. Most are also factoring in the whole Rent-a-Server thing and rightly pointing out that it is now almost impossible to play the multiplayer side of the game in standard format…unless you part with more money to set it up yourself . Public servers are now very rare, if not extinct, leaving anyone who doesn’t have admin rights to a rented server, fully at the mercy of others when it comes to game modes etc. Also take into account that most, if not all, EA games now come with an online access code which makes buying the game pre-owned wholly uneconomical. So they are engineering the market and funneling loyal fans of their games into a huge money pit. You want the game? You pay full price and buy it new. You want to play the FULL game? Pay double the price. You want to play without rules enforced by others? Pay even more for the privilege!
Ho-Hum has been my reaction to this up to now. I don’t have to pay the extra if I don’t want to. I choose to because I like the game and play it a lot…an awful lot. What if that choice was taken away from me though? What if it became obligatory to pay extra for the most fundamental aspects of the game? Well it seems that, in theory at least, we could be expected to do just that in the very near future!
A recent article, which can be found here raises the issue of the latest wave of ”Freemium” games that are beginning to grow in popularity. I would urge you to read the original article, rather than me explaining it over again in detail. But we are looking at the likes of Farmville and Tiny Towers etc that offer a “free to play” game but are so restrictive in
their base content that users are soon tempted to pay extra to ease their progress and compete with others, by buying extra content. Suddenly a “free” game can end up costing and awful lot more, as several court cases can testify!
The possible continuation of this could be the advent of “free to play” AAA or premium titles. To some degree, this is already happening with some MMOs on PC but the proposals set out here are very different. Perhaps you will be able to download the latest blockbuster title absolutely free. This would give you a chance to experience the game and decide if you like it before parting with any cash. This is a good thing…right? Maybe so but in essence, that is no different from an extended demo or Beta version which we already have, in many cases. So let’s assume that you do like the game and want to explore more. Time to reach for the plastic to purchase the parts of the game that you want to expand upon and develop further. Again, this seems like a good thing. For example, with games like Battlefield, I am not really interested in the single player Campaign mode. So maybe I could avoid paying for that chunk of the game and just pay a lesser amount for access solely to the multiplayer mode? Maybe I really only want to play as an Engineer? Great so I just pay for that particular slice of code and save on paying for more parts of the game that I will never use. In theory, this sounds like the best solution and a happy medium between a “one hit” purchase and compulsory DLC.
Then a company, who are already under the microscope for their attitude towards their customers allow their CEO to stand before a room full of people and proudly state the following :-
“When you are six hours into playing Battlefield and you run out of ammo in your clip and we ask you for a dollar to reload, you’re really not that price sensitive at that point in time.”
“So essentially what ends up happening, and the reason the play-first, pay-later model works nicely, is a consumer gets engaged in a property. They may spend ten, twenty, thirty, fifty hours in a game. And then, when they’re deep into a game, they’re well invested in it.”
“At that point in time the commitment can be pretty high. It’s a great model and it represents a substantially better future for the industry.”
These are direct quotes from EA CEO John Riccitiello at a recent stockholder’s meeting. I personally find this truly abhorrent! How can someone who has made his millions from the gaming community happily stand up and show us such utter contempt? Does he consider us to be no better than lab-rats who will continue to push a button labelled “confirm
payment” in order to be fed a morsel of game fodder? It would seem so but the scariest part of this, is that we can do very little about it. Since the release of this article, I have discussed it with others and have heard some say that we (the gamers) hold a lot of power over the likes of Mr Riccitiello. We could all just stop playing his games right? How realistic is that though? How many millions of customers does EA have? Would it really be possible to rally each and every one to a boycott? Unlikely, would be my guess. We all know that gaming is addictive to some degree and the likes of EA wouldn’t have to hold out for too long before, one by one, people cracked and coughed up!
So is it a bleak future for gamers as these corporate juggernauts bear down on us, or are we so mesmerised by the beam of their shiny headlights that we are unable or unwilling to jump out of the way? One thing that I am almost certain of though, is that as we are heading into oblivion, clinging to the bumper with the tarmac rushing under us…there’s sure to be a little window pop up, asking if we would like to “purchase a teleport perk for 500 msp!”
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